How to become a professional painter (plus career options)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 9 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A professional painter is a tradesperson who paints the interior and exterior surfaces of a property or object on behalf of a client. Depending on their expertise, professional painters may work on varied types of buildings or objects, such as private homes, company offices or vehicles. By learning more about the role and following this guide, you can learn how to develop the certifications, soft skills and practical experience required to succeed in this field. In this article, we provide a step-by-step guide outlining how to become a professional painter, discuss useful soft skills and detail four career options.

How to become a professional painter

The following section outlines a step-by-step guide explaining how to become a professional painter:

1. Review your responsibilities

Before starting a career in this profession, it's important to review the duties that a professional painter often carries out. In this role, you're responsible for consulting with customers about their desired colour schemes before painting their property or surfaces in a way that reflects these specifications. At the start of the painting process, you can use stripping tools to remove current paint or varnish, before using polish or sandpaper to smooth the surface's base. You may then add new paint to each surface, before using varnish to protect it against damage caused by dust or overuse.

The typical responsibilities of a professional painter include:

  • helping customers determine a project's budget, desired colour schemes and schedule

  • advertising their services in the local area

  • purchasing essential supplies, such as paint, rollers or drop cloths

  • removing existing paint or varnish from surfaces

  • using sandpaper or polish to smooth surfaces

  • using plaster or putty to fill in cracks or uneven areas on a surface

  • using rollers and brushes to paint surfaces

  • preventing colleagues or clients from touching wet paint

  • using varnish to protect paint against weathering

  • using sponging, glazing or layering techniques to create visual effects

Related: 18 skilled trade jobs that are in demand (with salaries)

2. Become an accredited painter

The second step that you can take in pursuit of this career is to qualify as a professional painter formally. You can become an accredited painter via several methods, though the most suitable option can differ depending on your current circumstances. For example, if you're changing career mid-life, you may find it useful to earn the NVQ Level 2 Painting And Decorating Certificate, provided by Q2W Ltd. During your studies, you can learn how to carry out basic painting-related tasks, such as complying with safety standards or preparing surfaces. This course usually takes up to 16 weeks to complete.

Conversely, if you recently finished secondary school, you may decide to qualify via the Painting & Decorating Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeship, regulated by City & Guilds. By taking this approach, you can learn about the profession's expected practices and safety regulations while supervised by a trained professional. During your studies, you complete several modules covering varied painting-related topics, such as applying surface coatings, setting prices or attaching hangings to walls.

Related: What are apprenticeship benefits? (Plus eligibility)

3. Secure an entry-level role

After qualifying as a professional painter, it's essential to gain practical experience of working in this industry. Depending on whether you wish to work on a full time or self-employed basis, the steps that you may take to find employment may vary. In the former scenario, it's advisable to use online job listings to identify potential opportunities within your area. You can then scan listings to discover keywords, which may provide an insight into that firm's preferred type of applicant. For example, if a listing mentions responsiveness, the employer expects you to solve work problems quickly and without aggravation.

Conversely, if you intend to become a freelancer, it's important to research the steps required to set up as a sole trader. In this situation, you can register the business with HMRC, so that you may meet your tax obligations on time. You may also buy public liability insurance to help ensure that the business can still operate if it experiences injury-related legal action. After completing these steps, you can begin marketing your services via social media or online directories.

Related: Self-employment vs. employment: the differences explained

4. Develop a professional niche

After establishing yourself in the industry, you may benefit from earning more specialist certifications to develop a more niche professional profile. In this context, it's important to review your own career ambitions, such as having a high earning potential or becoming a leader. You can then opt to develop the specialism best-suited to achieving these objectives. For example, to specialise in commercial painting, you can consider studying for the Industrial Coating Applicator Certificate, offered by the Industrial Coating Applicator Training Scheme. During the course, you learn how to avoid paint corrosion, inspect existing paint and conduct environmental impact assessments.

Conversely, to specialise in smoothing surfaces, you may earn the Abrasive Blast Cleaning Certificate offered by the same institution. During the course, you can learn about this specialism's safety standards, how to use sandblasting equipment and how to apply this knowledge to practical tasks.

Related: A guide to choosing a specialisation in education

What soft skills do professional painters often possess?

To succeed in this industry, it's essential to have certain key skills that make it easier to work productively in a fast-paced and collaborative environment. As professional painters can work on a self-employed basis, it's important to possess skills that make it easier to organise the business' affairs. Given you're responsible for completing projects to the client's expected standards, you may also benefit from possessing skills that make it easier to collaborate effectively.

Useful soft skills include:

  • Time management: It's important that you're an effective time manager, to ensure that you complete projects on schedule, even in busy periods.

  • Mathematics: As you're responsible for calculating the financial value of your services to set prices, it's vital that you're competent at mathematics.

  • Attention to detail: You may also benefit from being attentive to detail, noticing and repairing uneven areas of a surface before applying paint.

  • Communication: You can also benefit from being an effective communicator, as you can then find it easier to actively listen to clients' instructions and explain any project delays.

Related: How to improve soft skills in the workplace

Career options

Depending on your current experience, expertise or qualifications, you can pursue varied career options as a professional painter. Four such careers include:

1. Paint prepper

National average salary: £21,376 per year

Primary duties: A paint prepper specialises in preparing a vehicle's surface for painting by senior colleagues. If they're handling a second-hand vehicle, they may first use sandblasting tools to remove the existing layers of paint. They may also polish and make minor repairs to a vehicle's bodywork, such as flattening small dents or replacing metal panels. Paint preppers often remove specific components from a vehicle before polishing and refitting them.

2. Lead painter

National average salary: £26,629 per year

Primary duties: A lead painter oversees a large painting project, supervising junior colleagues' work to assess if they're adhering both to safety guidelines and the project's deadline. They can inspect their colleagues' work at the end of each shift, to help ensure that it conforms to their client's expectations. If not, they may request that all mistakes are rectified before starting a new task. They may also supervise colleagues if they're performing more complex painting tasks, such as spray painting or plastering. As the project's manager, lead painters often maintain its payroll database and work timetable.

Related: What is project management for construction? (Plus types)

3. Industrial painter

National average salary: £29,521 per year

Primary duties: An industrial painter specialises in painting surfaces and objects in factories, such as robotic machinery, vehicles or walls. They can use electroplating machinery to attach a layer of a non-corrosive metal to a metal surface, creating an outer coating to protect this surface against damage by dirt or dust. They may also use viscosity cups to determine the thickness of paint applied to any surface, to help ensure that it's sufficient to prevent corrosion. They may also make repeat repairs to painted surfaces, such as polishing metal objects or adding varnish to wooden beams.

Related: 10 high paid construction jobs and their responsibilities

4. Painting contractor

National average salary: £47,706 per year

Primary duties: Painting contractors are self-employed tradespeople who specialise in painting a specific type of building or object, such as offices, industrial machinery or retail stores. If they're interested in taking on a new project, they can draft a bid proposal to explain the terms of their offer, such as their work schedule or itemised costs. If they secure this contract, they can then source paint and equipment supplies from a wholesaler, before starting practical work. If they're undertaking a large project, they may also recruit junior painters to perform more routine tasks on their behalf.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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